Strong Momentum and Brisk Sales at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary Fair

L.A. has had a mixed history with art fairs: The L.A. Art Show, once held in the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, has been around for 20 years, and it doesn’t get much play with national collectors, let alone international. And the Paris-based FIAC art fair, which had been planning to start an L.A. fair in March, postponed in November. Who knows why Art Los Angeles Contemporary, also in the Barker Hangar, has grown up so much over the past six years that people are actually making the trip from out of town.

  • Wrinkle Decker, Lazy Boy, 2014; photo credit: Rachel Murray; special thanks to Daniel Hope in fabrication assistance.

“The weather doesn’t hurt,” says a colleague, shrugging. He is also wandering the fair in search of the “most interesting booth.” Hollywood gallerist Tif Sigfrids’s booth is the obvious choice. Sigfrids gave L.A.-based conceptual artist Joe Sola a solo show, and he has hired a young car salesman named Brandon to sell his very confrontational paintings about rape. (In one, a man on a cell phone says, “My lawyers will rape his lawyers.”) Watching the silver-tongued salesman wrestle with his sales pitch is uncomfortable.

But sales seem brisk at David Kordansky Gallery, where director Kurt Mueller is talking to a collector in front of a solo presentation of Zach Harris’s extraordinary paintings made on carved wood. Next to him, Harris was showing a group of friends the detailing on a particularly intricate painting called Linen Last Judgement. Mueller glanced over at Kordansky Gallery’s rising star. “Things are going well,” he confirms.

In the courtyard lounge, artist Alex Israel sells his Freeway Eyewear line of sunglasses—the most recent a collaborative effort between him, Bettina Korek’s ForYourArt, and Raymond Pettibon. His assistants hold up mirrors to potential shoppers. “Try the tortoise shell ones,” an assistant coos at a man with an ascot. The tortoise shells clash with ascot man’s checked shirt, and he hesitates. “They’re only $200. And they’re Zeiss lenses,” the assistant goads. “How can you beat that?”

  • Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images 

Inside, someone buys a work at Paris-based gallery PRAZ-DELAVALLADE. Hands are shook. In the center of the fair, Javier Peres, a Berlin-based dealer who used to own a space in L.A., is surrounded by collectors. “Honey, did you buy this one?” a woman asks, pointing at a Mark Flood painting. “No, it was the other one,” he says.

In the café, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is doing a signing of his new zine, which contains an interview with Mexican artist Felipe Ehrenberg. Tim Fleming, Art Los Angeles Contemporary’s founder, hands a zine to Obrist. “Who should I make it out to?” asks Obrist. 

“Me!” exclaims Fleming. “This one is for me.” 

Fleming has watched the fair grow after some choppy years of low sales.

“Last year, for whatever reason, we were firing on all cylinders,” he tells me after getting his zine signed. “It just caught on. We had been seeing 500 people every two hours, and last year it was 1000 people coming through the door every two hours. I haven’t seen the figures yet this year, but it looks like more.”

  • Photo by Stefanie Keenan/ Getty Images

  • Photo by Gina Clyne

The room does seem more packed than in past years. Though ALAC actually saw a slight drop in galleries from 64 in 2014 to 62 this year, there are 17 new galleries in the fair this year, meaning that there’s always someone ready to take over if a gallery decides to not participate. “There’s just a lot of momentum this year,” he says, motioning to the crowd.

Architect Kulapat Yantrasast, who walks by as soon as Fleming mentions him, designed the back area. A shrewd VIP program, with artist studio visits (including a stop at Sola’s) and trips to the concurrent art fairs, the L.A. Art Book Fair and Paramount Ranch, has spurred collectors and curators to make the trip.

I ask art advisor Nancy Chaikin to point me to something overlooked, and she directs me towards the booth of Grice Bench, a gallery so new in L.A., barely anyone has heard of it. That makes for one of the subtle surprises of the fair. Owned by artist Jon Pylypchuk and James Bae, Grice Bench had works out from each of their artists, like Christina Forrer and Max Jansons. “We didn’t know if we should do the fair,” Pylypchuk says, shrugging. “But we did.”

  • Photo of Grice Bench booth by Joshua White / JWPictures.com

  • Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

Around the fair, the works were mainly tailored to an Angeleno audience. Lots of pink and blue gradient sunset colors shaded the paintings and sculptures, and much of the work seemed directly descended from the plastic-gloss-loving Finish Fetish movement that happened in mid-1960s L.A.

Art Los Angeles Contemporary is still growing into itself, trying to figure out its identity. For now, it seems to embody the most “professional” art fair in L.A., compared to the punky Art Book Fair and Paramount Ranch. But ALAC seems young in and of itself. There aren’t any giant sculptures (apart from Aaron Wrinkle and Michael Decker’s Lazy Boy, which first showed at L.A. gallery Chin’s Push, at the fair’s entrance), very few important pieces by establishment artists, and no installations that burst from the seams of the booth. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there’s a certain charm in necessitated restraint.

  • Wrinkle Decker, Lazy Boy, 2014; photo by Gina Clyne; special thanks to Daniel Hope in fabrication assistance.

  • Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images 

Maybe ALAC is the young-professional art fair, then, sharply dressed and going places. 

Speaking of going places: “What are you doing after?” a young curator from New York asks me. “I heard there’s an afterparty at Kordansky’s.”

—Maxwell Williams

Explore Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2015 on Artsy.

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